Garry Vanderhorne aka Shiro Yoshida is the founder of Lucha Britannia, the masked lucha libre pro wrestling promotion making waves in the mainstream media after opening Download Festival in 2010. Vanderhorne’s trains wannabe wrestlers through his London School of Lucha Libre. He has worked in live music and arts events promotion as well as on the staff at counterculture magazine Bizarre.
He described how his training dealt with the issue of preparing people for promos:
“We usually start people in the process right off the bat, but sometimes it’s better to let them feel a little more confident in their physical abilities first. Everyone is different and learns at different speeds. We don’t have a methodology as such but more of a holistic view treating the process of becoming a great professional wrestler very seriously. Wrestling has changed dramatically over the last 30 years and we have to be mindful of the pioneers which (sic) helped make these great changes. Mostly they have come from great speakers with conviction and charisma that transcends the live arena and becomes compelling in other media such as television. Working to the camera is very different to working the crowd. We try and teach both by using examples from the very best of all the years. Projection of voice, intonation and emotion: not being monotonic as this leads one to switch off, clear delivery of lines, all the things a professional actor would do. We will work with an individual’s character and develop a suitable gimmick, and then we would start to think about the vocal embellishments which would best suit the gimmick. Different voices, pitches, catchphrases, back stories and so on.”
In the sessions I attended during the period of research there was no direct focus on teaching monologue, although at times part of the hour-long warm-up called for shouts to be emitted whilst running in order to acquaint one’s self with the additional energy being burnt up by a body in doing so. One of the trainees once guided us through the sprints by asking the others to imagine themselves in a story he set in a Rocky-Rambo mash-up scenario. I attended the strictly novice sessions and on top of that the beginners/intermediate classes. I got the impression that promo training took place more frequently with the advanced trainees. This was surely driven by the unique nature of Lucha Libre itself. The mask brings with it an air of mystery that unmasked wrestlers aren’t required to abide within. Therefore there would be less wrong with a luchadore combatant staying completely silent during his match than a non-lucha. However Vanderhorne recognises that this is changing:
“Traditionally Luchadores would only speak to their fans during matches maybe to get some cheers if they are a Tecnico (good guy) or to insult if they are Rudo (bad guy). After a match wrestlers may do signings or photos with fans for merchandise sales and then would stay in character the whole time, thus keeping what we call in the business ‘kayfabe’. Now because of the immense power of the internet and fans being much smarter to the wrestling business, a Luchador will do best if he has a twitter and facebook account and connects on a much more personal note with the audience both in and out of kayfabe. I try and steer my performers into certain diatribes (at my shows) but they pretty much take care of themselves. Sometimes I am appalled at what they say, other times I’m totally impressed with their commitment to character and believability. It is performance art on many levels so parody and overblown stereotypes are part and parcel of the show. I want the heels/Rudos to go out there and really make the audience dislike them in as many different creative ways possible. Whether it’s El Pirana saying “ugly girl” and “skinny boy” to perfectly lovely people in the crowd or Bradford W. Bush and his entourage bestowing (sic) the virtues of the States whilst demeaning the British, Mexicans and pretty much anyone who’s not them, then everyone’s happy!”
Vanderhorne expressed recognition for the importance of in-ring verbalisation:
“Being a quiet wrestler these days just won’t get you very far! The verbal communication or diatribe is often more important than physically being the best wrestler… [During my own developmental stage] it was obvious to me that in order to become great, one has to embrace the art of the promo or at the very least be able to engage the audience in witty reportage in order to get one’s character across. Now, not everyone finds this easy and I’m certainly no genius at it, but we teach the importance of vocalisation and character especially for the heel as it’s usually he who will be eliciting the greatest audience responses.”
A trawl through Lucha Britannia videos, even the promotional ones, will reveal that they have yet to film or release a traditional threat promo or a monologue delivered by a wrestler stating the date and card of the upcoming event. Lucha Britannia are always sold out weeks in advance so do not need to go to the trouble of actively pushing feuds or the like in promotional videos. This is coupled with an innovative, burlesque, inter-medium approach to the aesthetic, steering a spotlight more towards live crowd interaction, and as Garry says – “working to the camera is very different to working the crowd”.